Thursday, January 15, 2015

Fresh Apple Custard Cake

Are you looking for one more simple apple dessert? I wasn't, but when Serious Eats featured this apple cake in a review of Dorie Greenspan's latest cookbook, Baking Chez MoiI had to try it. Dorie is an iconic culinary guru, so I expected a lot from these custardy apple squares.

We are already huge fans of most sweet appley treats. One of our favorite desserts, Apple Cheese Torte, involves cinnamon-spiced apples bathed in a cream cheese custardlike filling and snuggled inside a buttery shortbread crust. While superbly delicious it's more of a company dessert, so I don't often bake it. Quick Apple Crostata is more of a family dessert and takes mere minutes from prep to finish... if I first remember to thaw a frozen package of pie crusts. Cinnamon Apple Crepes and Apple Pie Swedish Pancakes serve equally well as delicious dessert or breakfast fare. Orange-Spiced Apple Rolls and Apple and Nut Coffee Cake win top honors on any brunch menu. Both Fresh Apple Quick Bread and Appl-icious Brown Bread are snackable hits. Apple and JalapeƱo Pie with a Pecan Crust is amazing - note to self to share that recipe. Enough already, back to Dorie's apple cake recipe.

So why did I try one more apple dessert recipe? Well, it sounded sweet and appley, almost a cake and not quite a custard... and  Dorie Greenspan created it. It must be might be terrific.   

Peeling, slicing, measuring and mixing took less than ten minutes, almost too quick since I had to wait several more minutes for the oven to come up to temperature. While the cake baked its heavenly aroma kept me in the kitchen, nose twitching like a hound on the scent, and lured RL away from his computer project. Ooooh, we were so ready to love this cake.

Baking timing was a challenge; the outer edge browned heavily before the center puffed and firmed. Was my glass baking pan the cause? should I drop the temperature 25 degrees F next time to compensate for a glass pan, or purchase a metal pan? should I switch to a round cake pan to avoid crispy corners altogether? 

Despite the firm, dark brown edges, the cake showed promise. A dusting of powdered sugar improved the overall appearance and the first bite proved... pleasant. Hmmm, could the smell of an apple square actually outperform the taste?! I had already tweaked the original recipe by adding a generous tablespoon of freshly grated lemon zest, but felt it needed more of a flavor boost. RL declared it was just fine as is, and ate another piece... and another.  

We did enjoy this apple cake, ate the entire thing within the day, and pronounced it good but not quite as terrific as the Serious Eats post had proclaimed. Did I expect too much from a simple recipe? Maybe so, but I'm ready to give it another try. Next time I might add some cardamom or Apple Pie Spice, or stir in a teaspoon of almond extract, or even swap some pears for the apples (as suggested in some SeriousEats and FaceBook comments). A cook can't have too many "apple something" recipes.

Update January 17, 2015: 
1. Dropping the oven temperature 25 degrees F in a later batch eliminated the over browned edges and apple tips. The glass 8x8 pan must have been the issue on the first batch.
2. Additional flavorings - cardamom, apple pie spice and almond extract - helped boost the flavor, but the tastiest change was swapping a cinnamon/sugar topping for the original powdered sugar.
3. RL requested another pan of this cake today. He apparently loves it while I want it to tweak it to be something different, something more... I don't know what. Evidently it's still a work in progress.  

Fresh Apple Custard Cake
From a Serious Eats review of  'Baking Chez Moi' by Dorie Greenspan


3 medium to large, juicy apples (I used Granny Smith & Fuji), peeled
1/2 cup regular all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Pinch salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

6 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Grated zest of 1 large lemon
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting


Place a rack in the center of the oven; preheat to 400 degrees F. 

Butter or spray an 8-inch square baking pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Slice the apples quite thin, about 1/16 th inch thin, " elegantly thin, but not so thin that they’re transparent and fragile." Discard the cores.

Use a small bowl and 
whisk  together the flour and baking powder. 

In a large, separate bowl whisk the eggs, sugar and salt together for about 2 minutes, until the sugar just about dissolves and the eggs are pale. Whisk in the vanilla, then the milk and finally the melted butter. Add the flour to the bowl and whisk until smooth. 

Add the apples and using a rubber or silicone spatula gently fold the apples into the batter, turning until each thin slice is coated in batter. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth out the top.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until golden brown, uniformly puffed. Check to be sure the middle of the cake has risen and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack; allow to cool and set up for at least 15 minutes.

Unmold the cake bottom-side-up onto a plate, flip it back onto a second plate and cut into squares. Dust with powdered sugar; cut and serve.

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